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Learning from history, or doomed to repeat it?

By Stephen L. Carter

Waiting for the Dallas game, I am probably more nervous than I ought to be. Not just about the game. About the season.

The city is filled with optimism. And why not? A brilliant new coach who will reinvigorate the offense. An exciting new quarterback who will stretch the field. Everybody seems to think the Redskins are poised for a reboot, after last year's dismal 4-12. One Sports Illustrated prognosticator even has the Skins winning the division. I would love to lose myself in the hype. The only trouble is, I am remembering the last time the Skins went 4-12 - not 2009, but 1993.

Remember that dismal season? The coach was Richie Petitbon, who had been Joe Gibbs's successor-in-waiting. That year, the Redskins were outscored by their opponents by a gruesome 115 points. That was also the year the team lost at home to the Jets, 3-0, one of the most inept performances in Redskins history. Over the season, Skins quarterbacks averaged a pathetic 5.2 yards per pass attempt.

So, in the off-season, owner Jack Kent Cooke made wholesale changes. He hired a new head coach, Norv Turner, the offensive genius stolen from the Cowboys. He dumped quarterback Mark Rypien, who had won a Super Bowl but endured a miserable 1993, and drafted a new franchise quarterback from Tennessee, Heath Shuler. Once more, the city trembled with excitement.

The team responded by falling from 4-12 to 3-13. True, Turner's Skins scored a lot more points. But they gave up so many more that hardly anybody noticed. (We lost to Dallas twice, by a combined score of 65-14.) And the team's giveaways outnumbered the team's takeaways by an astonishing 17.

Now, I am not making a direct comparison. Donovan McNabb will waltz into the Hall of Fame. So will Mike Shanahan, who has won a pair of Super Bowls and had only two losing seasons of his 14 in Denver. I am simply remembering the excitement with which the 1994 season began, and the numbness in which it ended. I want to be optimistic about this season, but I have been optimistic about too many seasons over my many years as a fan - I go back to the days when Otto Graham coached the team - only to see hopes dashed.

On Sunday night, I will be in the stands, rooting hard for the Skins to upend Dallas. If Washington ekes out a win, will I yield to the optimism and jump on the bandwagon? Maybe. But, even should the Skins win going away, there will be reason nevertheless for caution. That 1993 team, playing at home, at night, on opening weekend, before a national television audience, whipped Dallas 35-16 - and proceeded to reel off six defeats in a row.

Which is why I am more nervous than I ought to be.

By Box Seats Blogger  | September 10, 2010; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  Redskins, Stephen L. Carter  | Tags:  Redskins, Stephen L. Carter  
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Well, that was thoroughly depressing. I hadn't made the connection to 1994, but now I probably won't sleep this weekend. Although, it could have been worse - you could have compared this year to the irrational exuberance that came with Steve Spurrier...

Posted by: jasonwoodmansee | September 10, 2010 9:23 PM | Report abuse

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